Here’s a scene you’ve probably encountered: an accident occurs on an interstate and traffic backs up in both directions because motorists have slowed down to get a better look. It’s human nature to be curious. But such actions can create a danger to motorists and aren’t respectful to the privacy of the victim. As crime scene officers we have the responsibility of protecting the crime scene and its integrity, and protecting the dignity of the victim. In this article, I’ll discuss problems you need to watch out for and products you can use to help protect your crime scene.
Sometimes problems occur when we aren’t properly prepared. Often at a crime scene, a member of the public or the first responding officer will try to protect the dignity and privacy of the victim by covering the body with whatever sheet or blanket is readily available from a residence or vehicle. While this impulse is understandable, it can create problems. As we know from Locard’s exchange principle, hairs found on the victim could have been transferred from a source other than the suspect. Therefore, if the sheet or blanket is not clean, you risk transferring evidence that will contaminate the body. This type of problem happened in a case where an examination of the trace evidence on the victim found dog hair—and the suspect had a German shepherd. But the officer who had covered the victim at the scene had used a blanket from his patrol car—and it just so happened that he was a K9 officer. The trace evidence was then useless to the investigation. So if you want to be able to cover the victim, remember to keep sheets or blankets that are clean and free from contaminants in your vehicle.
Even when you cover the body appropriately, you still leave the scene exposed. In an attempt to solve this problem, officers often resort to holding up a tarp or some other material to block the public’s view. An even better option for maintaining privacy is a privacy screen. These shields are usually around 10'-12' long and 4' high, and are convenient to use because they are small enough to fit in your cruiser or crime scene vehicle. They work well for blocking the view from the ground up for scenes like those that occur on the side of a roadway and block the wind from blowing away trace evidence.
For scenes where you want to protect access from more than one direction, you can use a privacy shield. These shields are also about 4' high, but they cover 360 degrees around the body. They also fold up to fit in your vehicle.